Whether you’re a countertop gardener, a community garden goer, or your backyard is a lively mosaic of herbs, flowers and veggies in the summer months, the reasons are plenty to start seeds indoors. Early spring is the perfect time to begin the lifecycle of many of your favorite plants by starting them in your windowsill. Perhaps you’re planting the tiny seeds of perennial herbs that need a little extra TLC to germinate. Perhaps your countertop is the only place you have to grow greens. Perhaps you’re waiting until any threat of frost passes before some plants can go outside, and in the meantime you’d like to give them a head start. Read on for a simple, step-by-step tutorial for starting seeds at home.
WHAT YOU’LL NEED:
- Seed starting soil mix (regular compost will do if you don’t have this)
- Empty, non-dyed egg cartons
- Shallow tray or pan
- Cut off the tops of the egg cartons and discard.
- Scoop the soil mix into each compartment of the egg cartons until it’s almost full.
- Check for seed depth planting instructions on the seed packets.
- For small seeds that require shallow planting (⅛ inch or less), place onto the soil surface. When all compartments are filled, sprinkle the appropriate amount of soil over the seeds and press down lightly with your fingertips.
- For seeds that require slightly deeper planting, press them down to the proper depth into the soil one at a time with your index finger. Sprinkle the entire egg carton lightly with soil and then press each compartment down gently with your fingertips.
- Place the egg cartons in shallow trays or pans, and then thoroughly water them–until the cartons are visibly damp and there is a thin layer of water on the bottom of the pan.
- Place in a sunny south or southeast facing window sill.
Continue to water your starts two times a day (this is key, as the egg cartons will dry out quickly!), aiming to keep the seeds moist at all times.
Once the plants have sprouted and leafed out into several sets of true leaves (versus the “cotyledons” or mini leaflets that are the plants first growth), cut the egg carton into individual compartments and pot-up into bigger containers or transplant directly into the ground (only if the plants are hardy or if threat of frost has passed). You can pop/wiggle the starts out of the egg carton, or gently break open the bottoms of each compartment and plant the start while still in the egg carton. It’s ok if you tare the roots a little bit in this process, if it is minimal it can actually help them root into their new environment.
GENERAL RULES OF THUMB
- Avoid pre-starting root vegetables. They do best directly seeded into outside soil once it’s ready.
- For seeds that have a high germination rate, one seed per compartment is best. With lower germination rates, you can plant two seeds and if both sprout pull the smaller one out while it still has only two small leaflets.
- If you are using a cardboard egg carton be sure to put it in a tray as the water will seep through the cardboard.
- Talking, singing to, and swooning over your little plant babies usually helps them grow up to be strong and healthy.